Category Archives: brainstorming

Yahoo.com is becoming more and more appropriately named

Lately I’ve been working on a plan for stepping up my creative activities, which includes making some adjustments to my online presence.  I’ll spare you the tedious details, and only mention that one step of the plan involved creating a new Yahoo Mail account that I could associate with an already existing Flickr account.

Well, my plan has been foiled, thanks to a new and very stupid Yahoo account creation policy:  It turns out that, as of recently, Yahoo will no  longer allow someone to set up a mail account without providing a mobile phone number.  I don’t have one of those damned things, nor do I want one.  Even if I could get one and keep it running for a reasonable price, having it would make it easier for people to bother me, which I don’t want.  And (seriously people) – text messages??!?!  No way.

I may be able to work around this problem some other way, involving using an existing, unused Yahoo Mail account instead of creating a new one.  That is assuming there is no further demand for cell phone information when I set up the association with the already-existing Flickr account—an assumption which, as of today, I no longer consider safe.

An additional, worrisome question is whether Yahoo plans to extend their Nazi-esque mobile phone policy to existing users in general.  As of today, they have not done that—I just successfully logged out of my primary Yahoo Mail account and then logged back in.  They do pester with the “what’s your mobile phone number” thing at every single login now, though.  If they make that mandatory, I’d be faced with the very unwelcome choice of abandoning my old accounts entirely, or shelling out the damn money to buy one of these goddamned phones.  (I notice WordPress is getting pretty pushy about mobile phone authentication as well, although I don’t believe they require a number just to create an account.)

It actually makes me wonder if Yahoo! is getting a kickback from the phone companies to do this.  It wouldn’t be at all surprising, would it?  I can certainly believe that the large phone companies, all of whom are scum, would stoop to this sort of strategy.

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Irony

Something just occurred to me.

I have been an Apple user since…..well, maybe 1982? Something like that. It was before the Mac came out anyway–a computer math class in high school in the early 80’s, programming in AppleSoft on an Apple IIe. Not a bad computer, for that time, incidentally, even if it was possible for me to physically type enough text to fill up the entire RAM capacity of the computer. LOL

Anyway. The point is that I’ve been an Apple user for a long time. But something occurred to me, as I’ve been looking over my last few posts on this blog tonight. As a long-time Mac user, I’ve slung more than my fair share of criticism towards Microsoft, especially back in the DOS and Windows 95 days. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, possibly, my favorite application of all time is a Microsoft product: Microsoft Excel.

And, my most-loathed application of all time is Apple’s Time Machine.

What a dilemma. I, a long-time Mac user, have proclaimed my all-time favorite application to be a Microsoft product, and my all-time most-hated application to be an Apple product. WTF?

Hmm. Well, I have no particular insight into that question at the moment, but I do feel moved to traverse the garden path for a bit, as it were:

Every once and a while, my dentist, knowing me to be a computer geek, asks me for a recommendation or other pertaining to hardware or software if he’s got a big upgrade coming, or whatever. Over the years, I’ve found myself less and less sure of what to tell him. Gone are the days when I could brazenly brag about how I ran my iMac with no malware protection whatsoever. Granted, I still do that (depending on what you consider “malware protection”–for instance, is Adblock Plus considered “malware protection”? Or NoScript?). But long gone are the days when I would unconditionally recommend a Mac system.

At the same time, though, I have never gone so far as to actually recommend a Windows 7 system to anyone (with the exception of the odd Windows XP user wondering if it was a good idea to upgrade–short answer, “it ain’t bad, you’ll get used to it, and I don’t hate it myself, which is more than I can say about a lot of upgrades”).

Really, if someone came to me today, or during the past few years, and asked what sort of system they should buy, I’m honestly not sure what I would say. It’s my feeling that there is really no good choice out there, or that (really) the best choice is to simply stick with what you have. Out of Windows, OS X and Linux, each has their advantages and disadvantages. I stick with OS X because it would cost me too much to switch, given the gains I would realize. Maybe the correct answer to the question is, “it doesn’t really matter all that much.”

Then again, it can be said that desktop systems aren’t the main issue anymore. The real question these days is what sort of mobile device to get. Android? iPhone? Blackberry?!?! Hmmm.

[For me, the answer is “none of the above”, because 1) I detest the expense involved in any of those systems, 2) I don’t want people to be able to reach me that easily and 3) “the cloud” is a BAD idea in most cases. In the long run, I am guessing that this will spell my demise as a “tech” guy, due to the world’s moving into a realm of stupidity and me refusing to follow. Oh well. Ask me if I care. No. Why do you ask?]

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iMac or Mac Pro?

Out of curiousity, I was looking at specs on Apple’s website recently and noticed something interesting. When comparing features and prices between their current top of the line iMac and bottom of the line Mac Pro (default configurations for both), a person is better off buying the iMac, unless they already have a high-end monitor available for the Mac Pro, or (perhaps) have a specific need for some key feature that’s only available on the Mac Pro.

Why?

It’s actually pretty simple: The iMac is spec’d higher, it’s $500 cheaper, it includes a high-end monitor for no extra cost, and it’s power consumption is substantially less. This is just a ballpark figure, but I generally allow my Mac to run 24/7, idle most of the time with the screen dimmed, and, comparing the wattage figures for that usage between the two models, I estimate I’d burn through about 75 kilowatt-hours more per month with the Mac Pro.

Is a 3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (iMac) better or worse than a 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor (Mac Pro)? Many people will simply not care–either one will be fast enough. The question is actually somewhat important to me, though, given my ownership of a Nikon D7000, which produces some rather large and slow-to-process RAW image files. Some extra speed would be helpful with that. I am too lazy to bother looking up the answer to the question right now, however (am I the world’s lamest blogger, or what?!?!).

Graphics cards: I admit I neither know, nor care, about the difference (if any) between them. (I suck at video games, and what else do you need that kind of hardware for, anyway? Generating Bitcoins? LOL Good luck with that.)

Firewire: The Mac Pro has two FW800 ports. The iMac only has one, but also has the new “Thunderbolt” ports. These are useless at this point, but will be quite nice once Thunderbolt peripherals are available. Those who, like me, have a lot of external hard drives, will perhaps be ambivalent about the prospect of upgrading lots of enclosures. I am also a bit concerned that I may actually have more drives than are allowable on a Thunderbolt bus. When you figure a 3 terabyte limit on drive size, multiplied by the small number of Thunderbolt devices allowed on one system, you end up with a limit on total system storage that’s substantially lower than you’d get using Firewire devices. It also gets more complicated when you realize, from a practical standpoint, that if you max out the drive size on all of the devices, you are going to run into backup issues, so the practical limit is even lower. Obviously it will be more than enough for all but the most dedicated hoarders (heheheh), but some of us may get a little cramped, especially once those 1080p video files start to pile up! (This is actually an interesting theoretical question. Let’s say, for instance, that for some crazy, insane reason I needed a petabyte of storage space on my iMac system, and, through some miracle, had the money to pay for it. Is that amount of storage even possible on an iMac system, and, if so, how could it be accomplished? Food for thought. Heheheh.)

On the whole, with the noted reservations, I suspect the specs are a win for the iMac, at least for now. Apple will get around to updating their Mac Pro line sooner or later, and at that point, the situation will presumably change.

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Support: A genuinely gnarly subject

I am in the midst of trying to figure out what in the world I really need in terms of a support upgrade for my camera. A while ago, I purchased a lovely 300mm AF-S f/4 Nikkor lens, and, although the lens isn’t heavy or long enough to mandate tripod/monopod use in all circumstances, I am definitely running into some common situations where it would be helpful. One in particular is shooting out the passenger side window of the car, when I’m in the driver’s seat. Doing that hand-held quickly proved to be totally impossible at any shutter speed, due to the need to cross my left arm all the way across my body, to the point where that shoulder has virtually no leverage at all, and that’s the hand that supports the lens, in Nikon’s decidedly non-ambidextrous design. My left arm just shakes too much in that position. If I twist in the other direction, though, to shoot out the driver’s window, that works fine because now the left arm has plenty of leverage, and I can even brace my elbow on the armrest on the door. Unfortunately, there are about ten times as many good shots out the passenger side as out the driver’s side. (And if I lived in the UK, Australia, or some other country where people drive on the left, then this would not be an issue at all, because the passenger window would be on the left, not the right!)

For lack of a better immediate solution, I’ve been using an old tripod as a makeshift support, in order to alleviate the problem. It’s not stable enough to qualify as a “real” tripod support, because it’s not sturdy enough for that, but it can function as a substitute “arm”, meaning I still need to keep shutter speeds above 1/500, as I would for hand-held shots. It’s better than nothing, but I am still having problems. I am unsure of the source of the problems, but I suspect engine vibrations being magnified through the car seat, and further through the flimsy, wobbly legs of the tripod. These vibrations then cause problems for getting the lens focused correctly in some circumstances, due to the image moving enough that the focusing sensor is unable to get a perfectly accurate reading. At least, that is my theory.

I’m not sure what to do about it, because I need to be able to shoot that way, and it’s also very useful to be able to creep along in the car without having to start and stop the engine multiple times. I question whether any amount of money spent on a tripod setup would solve the problem. It might, if I was able to set it up so that one leg wasn’t braced on the passenger seat. If the springs in the passenger seat really are acting as an amplifier for the engine vibrations, then yes, a different tripod, one with more configurable and sturdy legs might actually help, so I can brace all three of them on a solid part of the car. Such a tripod would be useful for other things as well. If it doesn’t do the trick in the car, though, then I don’t think any rigid solution would work. I would need something that would directly compensate for those vibrations, such as some kind of steady-cam gimbal setup, or other type of shock-absorbing device. Maybe a great big pillow would be the thing. :) I actually did see one person using something like that with a big-assed telephoto (looked like a 400mm f/2.8) several weeks ago, while shooting from his car. I’d have to prop the pillow on top of something. Hmm. Come to think of it, what I was initially doing was using the tripod as a brace for my elbow, rather than setting it up all the way. I’d extend one leg to rest on the floor or some solid surface, then angle the top end of the tripod so I could brace my left elbow against it, thus providing the support that I couldn’t get from overextended shoulder muscles. Maybe I should just go back to doing that! However, the problem was that it was extremely clumsy, and I would often spend so much time messing around with it that whatever bird I was seeing was long gone by the time I got the tripod/elbow combination situated correctly.

I probably need a more workable solution, so I have been thinking of acquiring some kind of fairly normal tripod that would be suitable for bird shots with the 300mm f/4. It’s not a huge lens, probably comparable in size and weight to a standard 70-200 f/2.8, meaning it’s actually somewhat small compared to the big telephotos. I may add a 1.5x or 1.7x teleconverter someday, for shooting either from inside the car or out. I’m also going to want to use it for closeup shots next spring, although not from the car. I am unsure at this point if a monopod would be better for use when I’m outside of the car. Luckily, from research I’ve done so far, the main expense appears to be the head, clamp and plates, which can be interchanged between a monopod and a tripod.

The head would have to be a fairly nice ball head. I’m considering the Wimberly Sidekick to go with the head, although for the time being I’ve decided to wait and see how well a regular ball head works. The main reason for this is that I found a demo video of the Sidekick, and the thing is larger than I expected, making me think it might be overkill for my lens. Another option would be a panning ball head as opposed to a simple ball head. The panning ball head allows panning on the top part of the head, right by the clamp, which means that the tripod legs don’t have to be level in order to pan horizontally. That seems like it would be extremely convenient, however a panning head is substantially more expensive. Also, I am unsure whether that feature would be necessary if I got the Sidekick, which means I need to go watch that video again. ;) I’d also need to get a lens plate and an L-plate for the camera, both for mounting onto the ball head (or the Sidekick). I’m only considering ball heads that feature an Arca-Swiss style clamp.

For the tripod itself, I am a bit torn. I was looking hard at the Manfrotto 055XPROB, which is definitely within my price range and seems to be a pretty nice piece of equipment. I do have some reservations about the sideways capability of the center post, though. Supposedly, this can create stability issues, and there’s also the question of whether I would even need that sideways leaning feature. Manfrotto has a similar tripod with just a traditional up-and-down center post, the 055XB, but, unfortunately, the retailer I was planning on using doesn’t carry that model! That would be a minor quibble, except there’s enough variation in prices between retailers that having to go elsewhere would (apparently) cost me an additional $20, even with the simpler design! I may also need a shorter center column. Those can be had for about $30, if I remember right.

For the ball head, I’m looking at the Really Right Stuff BH-40, either with the panning clamp, or with the substantially cheaper, but less convenient full-sized screw-knob clamp.

So, what’s that boil down to in terms of cost?

For the legs, if I manage to find the Manfrotto 055XB carried by someone who’s asking a good price, it should come to roughly $155. That’s about $20 cheaper than some places are asking. Then the ball head would be either $356 with the standard clamp or $515 (!) with the panning clamp. The plates could also be obtained from Really Right Stuff. An L-plate for the camera would come to $125, and a plate for the lens would be $55. If I wanted to skimp a bit, I could initially skip the L-plate and just get the one for the lens….actually, since I’m thinking about upgrading camera bodies, I could save some money and just wait to get the L-plate for the new body. In fact, I could skip all of this plate stuff for now and just get a ball head with a platform (no clamp), then add the panning clamp later. That’s one nice feature of the Really Right Stuff heads–the clamps and platforms are interchangeable.

However, assuming I go with the regular style clamp ball head, I’m looking at $566, including the tripod and a plate for the lens.

That’s pretty steep, considering just a few hours ago I blew more than that on car repairs. :(

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Stupid Mac Tricks

This bug is actually kind of interesting, although it could cause some more significant problems in some cases.

I was using Disk Utility to do a free space wipe of one of my drives. What happens when this occurs is Disk Utility creates a new file that’s exactly the size of the free space on the drive, then overwrites the file however many times is specified in the wipe options. That would be either once, seven times or whatever the highest, most secure option is (I forget at the moment).

So that’s what I was doing when Time Machine started up. Time Machine noticed this “new” file that Disk Utility had created, and decided it needed to be backed up…all sixteen gigabytes of it. Suddenly, the backup was sixteen gigabytes larger than before, meaning my Time Machine drive did not have enough space. Older backups needed to be deleted to make room. I ended up losing two weeks of my oldest backups. This is not a huge deal in this case, but it is entirely possible that someone will encounter this bug at some point and experience far greater problems with it. It all depends on how much of a shortfall is caused by the wipe file. If the wipe file is, say, 75 gigabytes larger than the free space on the Time Machine drive, then you’re going to lose 75 gigs of backups just to make room for a gigantic file full of gibberish or zeros. Thrilling, huh? Even if you’re lucky like I was, with a wipe file “small” enough to not cause serious mayhem on the backup drive, you’ll still have a huge, utterly useless file sitting there, potentially for quite a long time, with no easy way to get rid of it. Why? Because it’s an invisible file, so you won’t be able to see it in Time Machine. [footnote!]

I wonder if this is fixed in Snow Leopard. I am a luddite, still using Leopard, 10.5.8.

The easy workaround, of course, is to turn off Time Machine before doing such a wipe. Obviously it is ridiculous that people should have to remember something like that, but that’s the way it goes in the computer business.

On the plus side, at some point in the future when Time Machine needs more space on my drive, and has reached the point where the September 18th backup is the oldest, I’m going to be getting a fairly large chunk back all at once. I wonder how long it will be? [footnote–not long, I guess! :P]

——

Footnote: I was able to get the wipe file off the backup drive and reclaim that space. It proved to be about 15 gigabytes, not 16 like I thought. How did I get rid of it?

The file itself was located a few levels deep in an invisible folder named “.Temporary Items” on the drive I was cleaning. In order to show this folder, I needed to make invisible items visible. Moreover, I needed to do this in a way that I could see the invisible files in Time Machine. There’s a utility called Onyx which can do this. It has a checkbox to unhide invisible items in the Finder, which also makes them visible in Time Machine (as I discovered, to my delight).

Once those invisible items are visible, I started Time Machine and located the backup where the huge file appeared. It was the first backup after I started the free space wipe. Finder view options needed to be set to “show all folder sizes”, so I could check the sizes of the folders I was looking at. Basically, I kept opening folders until I found the very large file that was causing the problem–I think it was two or three levels deep. It had some generic, technical sounding name (I forgot to note it down before I removed it), but was clearly identifiable it by its size, which was equal to the amount of free space on the drive from before. I selected that file, then went up to the little actions menu button in the title bar of that Finder window (it’s the button with the little gear icon in it). One of the options was to remove all backups of that file. It asked if I was sure and requested my password to confirm. After that, I had the space back on my backup drive, all fifteen gigabytes of it. Sadly, though, there is no way to recover the old backups which had been deleted to make room for it. :(

Disclaimer: Just because I am describing this here doesn’t mean I am recommending this procedure. Anything you try is at your own risk. In particular, do not use the Finder to delete individual files off of a Time Machine drive, because it will not work. I am not responsible for the actions of people who try this who don’t know what they are doing. I’m mostly putting this description up because I am sort of a compulsive explainer, and can’t really help myself. ;)

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Update on the Scrollball Problem

On a whim, I tried an idea with the scrollball to see if it would help.

I applied a fair amount of ordinary spit to the scrollball (basically I licked it a couple times), and then did the standard press-down-and-exercise-the-ball method. This actually seemed to shake things up in there a little, so I licked the ball again and did it some more, with a bit more spit this time. Hmm, didn’t help as much, so one more generous lick, then flipped the mouse over, pressed the scrollball down onto a clean sheet of paper and rolled it around a bit.

That seems to have done the trick, for now. Hopefully the fix will last for more than a couple of hours.

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Conundrum

Should you take the red pill or the blue pill?

The problem with this question is, what if the intelligence behind the illusions of the blue pill is just making you think you’re taking the red pill? Is your new reality just another layer of illusion?

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